By BRYAN GASKINS
Taylor boys basketball player Nathan Gotshall picked the perfect time for a big game.
Gotshall scored a career-high 21 points to lead the previously winless Titans past Eastern 55-49 in the opening game of the Coca-Cola Old School Sectional on Tuesday night at Memorial Gym. The 6-foot-4 wing also had 12 rebounds and three steals.
“It’s been a long season so far — only six games [before Tuesday], but coming in 0-6. To get a win at Memorial Gym is huge. It feels great,” Gotshall said.
For Gotshall, the win proved doubly sweet considering it came against his brother’s team. Tyler Gotshall is an assistant coach for the Comets.
“There has been a little bit of trash talking at home,” Nathan said with a smile. “It feels good to get a win, especially against Eastern since you know he’s over there.”
Taylor coach Andy Lewman was thrilled to see his squad crack the win column.
“It feels good to see smiles on these kids’ faces,” he said. “They work hard every day and they’re fun to be around.”
Taylor advances to face Class 4A No. 8-ranked Kokomo in Friday’s semifinal round.
The Titans had to overcome Josiah Marx’s big game. The Eastern post finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds, with 10 of his boards coming on the offensive end. He made all 11 of his free throw attempts.
The Titans also weathered a slow start. The Comets (2-5) led by as many as seven points in the opening quarter and had a 17-12 advantage at the close of the quarter. Braden Gibson poured in 10 points to fuel the Comets’ fast start.
The Titans led at the other quarter stops including 28-26 at halftime and 43-41 after three. The middle two quarters featured six ties and five lead changes. The Titans then spurted to a 51-41 lead at 5:24 of the fourth quarter and held on from there for the win.
Eastern shot 7 of 13 from the field in the first quarter, but just 9 of 28 over the final three quarters.
“I was pleased with how we didn’t let that first quarter affect us,” Lewman said. “We did some good things defensively. Notably, we did a good job of keeping Gibson from getting other scoring opportunities after the first quarter. That made a big difference.”
Taylor held a 52-43 lead after Gotshall split a pair of free throws with 3:09 left. Taylor had some struggles putting the game away, including turnovers and missing the front end of two different one-and-bonus chances, and Eastern took advantage to close within 52-49 at :31. The Titans had another turnover, but the Comets missed two free throws at :24.
Taylor then iced the win. Calvin Wheeler made the first of two free throw attempts at :19 — and Gotshall rebounded the miss and scored a putback for a 55-49 lead.
Lewman noted the Titans’ shaky finish was a learning experience for a squad that was playing with a late lead for the first time this season.
Gotshall finished 8 of 16 from the field, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. He made 4 of 6 free throw attempts.
“My outside shot wasn’t too good, but I was feeling it inside. I tried to crash the boards pretty hard,” he said.
The Titans also received solid play from backups Latrell Mitchell (10 points, five rebounds) and Darryn Small (four points, five boards). They filled in for starting forward Nick Hoover, who was slowed by foul trouble.
“We got some great energy off the bench,” Lewman said, noting wing Cole Schroeder’s contributions as well.
Eastern had few bright spots outside of Marx’s play and Gibson’s big opening quarter.
“We knew [the Titans would] be hungry for a win here — an 0-6 team that we knew was better than that,” Eastern coach Kyle Bedwell said. “We knew we had to meet their intensity ... and we did not meet that [the final three quarters]. They were more physical than we were. I just thought it was a really soft effort from us. We had been improving, chipping away, getting better defensively and [Tuesday] I felt like it was a big goose-egg on that end.”